Thursday, October 9, 2003
Diana Griego Erwin
For the disabled and disenfranchised, there are rights -- and then there's
Marta Zangari, 43 and severely disabled by multiple sclerosis, feels forced by time and circumstances to go with what's practical right now, even though the law may be on her side.
That's because she and her full-time live-in caretaker, Richard Scheiber, are being forced out of her rented home in Placerville.
Zangari and her landlord have totally different explanations as to why she is being evicted. Her landlord, who lives next door, says the problem is exclusively her caretaker, whom he claims is disrespectful and that he "doesn't have to put up with that."
Zangari, who uses a wheelchair, says her problems started in February 2002 when she brought home an assistance dog named Cory. She said the landlord "was very angry" and pointed out that the rental agreement said no pets. "He was even angrier when he found out that, under state and federal law, I am allowed to have an assistance dog. Cory is not a pet."
She maintains that the landlord has been working to drive her out ever since (including raising her rent 60 percent this year) and she would gladly go if she could find something she could afford on her $8,500 annual disability benefits.
Rather than name the landlord and turn this into a he said/she said story and try to guess where the real truth lies, let's look at the issues and constraints that many unemployable disabled people face.
By the time Zangari appeared before the El Dorado County Board of Supervisors in September to bring attention to the lack of affordable and accessible housing, she'd already received notice to move out of her small home of 3 1/2 years.
Where she might move is anyone's guess. Her $8,500 annual income breaks down roughly to $708 a month rent, if she doesn't mind not eating. In reality, she and Scheiber, who makes just $6.75 an hour to care for her, pool their earnings so that collectively they have a yearly income of about $26,000, although this is not his responsibility.
Unfortunately, and this is what she told the supervisors, the waiting list for affordable housing in El Dorado County is between six months and a year. The alternative is the state moving her to a convalescent home for life, which she put at the whopping cost of $70,000 or more a year. The one wheelchair-accessible rental she found was going for $1,300 a month.
Zangari also noted Scheiber's hourly $6.75 and no benefits is a bit shocking in a county where the median income is $51,000. Sacramento County pays its caretakers $10.50 an hour and benefits; Yolo County, $11.90 and benefits.
But rather than listen attentively or show concern, board members shuffled papers and wouldn't even look at her, both Zangari and Scheiber said. No one offered any helpful advice, such as an agency that might help her. If someone cared, no one made that evident.
"I felt like I was ignored," Zangari said. She was "especially surprised" that Supervisor Helen Bauman wasn't more concerned about the housing plight of the county's disabled. "That really crushed me," she said. "I mean, Helen's a nurse."
I'd love to know what the board thought of her plea or the need for more affordable housing for people on extremely fixed incomes, but I have no answers. Although she was in her office Wednesday, Bauman, the board's chairman, did not return calls from The Bee.
"Some people have asked why I don't just move someplace else, but I've lived in Placerville for 35 years," Zangari said. "My mother and grandmother are buried here. This is my home."
Besides, it appears that she can't just up and move to a county that has more options for the severely disabled. She says she'd have to reapply for benefits if she moved out of El Dorado County, and that could take months. "My benefits are not portable, so I'm basically going to be homeless," she said.
Several civil-rights attorneys said she might have a case against the
landlord, but lawsuits usually take time and money. Zangari has neither.
Copyright © 2003, The Sacramento Bee